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Silk-Screening 101 


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Silk-Screening 101 

Written By: Kirk von Rohr 


Diazo photo emulsion (1) 
made by Speedball 

Silk screen (1) 

Piece of glass (1) 

8"x10", same size as glass 

Squeegee (1) 

Task lights (2) 

150- watt bulbs (2) 

Transparency paper (1) 

for black and white copier/laser printer 

Silk-screen inks (1) 

Createx and Speedball have worked well for me 

Hard flat surface (1) 

to slip the shirt over while printing, I used an Ikea lid 


/ used a small Vornado 

Diazo photo emulsion remover (1) 

if you want to clean your screen and start over 

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Silk-Screening 101 


Silk-screening is a great way to personalize your gear. It's a very basic process that has 
unlimited outcomes. One of the easiest ways to get a design on almost any surface is to use 
the photo emulsion process. Once you've made the screen, it's ready to print time and time 
again. Follow along as I walk through the process of transferring my design to a screen, and 
printing it on a laptop bag. 

Work up an idea for your design. On your first attempt, try a one-color design, keep it 
simple, and have some fun with it. Once you get it figured out, make your design digital. 
Sara and I created ours in Illustrator, but you can also scan a drawing. If you are really 
hands-on, you can draw straight onto transparency paper using India ink. You need a solid 
black positive to burn into the screen. I print on transparencies, using a black and white 
laser printer. This gives me an easy way to accurately, cheaply, and quickly create a 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 1 — Design. 

• Design must be high-contrast. 
There is either on or off, positive or 
negative. Grays are acquired by 
decreasing the size of solid dots. 
This can be done using halftone 

• Take a bold approach. Bolder lines 
print more easily. Save your 
delicate designs for when you get a 
feel for the process. 

• Mind your solids. Be cautious of 
big solid areas. They are harder to 
print because they require lots of 
ink and even ink coverage. On 
fabrics, they also get rubbery, and 
will eventually crack after lots of 

• Have fun with it. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 2 — Prep the screen. 

• Mix the photo emulsion as per the directions. 

• Coat the screen with photo emulsion, working fairly quickly over a sink or surface you can 
get messy. It's OK to have indoor lights on during this process, but keep out of direct 
sunlight. The emulsion needs to be applied evenly, so keep flipping the screen over and 
squeegeeing until the emulsion is even on both sides. 

• Note: Any globs will cause uneven exposing and will mess up your end result. The 

thicker the emulsion is applied, the longer the screen will have to be exposed. 

• The screen needs to be completely dry in order to expose it, and should be dried in a 
pitch-black room. I dry my screen by resting the wood frame on a couple of shoeboxes in 
the closet, so that the screen is parallel to and above the floor. This allows the air to flow 
above and below the screen to help it dry faster. Make sure that only the frame touches 
the boxes, so as not to mess up the nicely applied emulsion. You can place a fan (I use 
Vornado because they are compact) next to the screen. Drying it this way takes 30 
minutes to an hour, depending on humidity. 

• Note: The tighter the weave of the silk, the better resolution you will get. Think of it 
like dpi (dpi = dots per inch). If your design has lots of detail and you make it 72dpi 
in Photoshop, of course you'll lose detail and it'll look grainy. If you go to 150dpi, it will look 
twice as good. If your silk is cheap, chances are it's less than 72dpi. 

• To gain resolution, you will have to buy more expensive silk, and in most cases, that 
means stretching your own screen. I go the quick and dirty route and use store-bought 
pre-stretched screens, which cost around $10 each for an 8x10. In using these, though, I 
know that any wispy details in my design may be compromised. 


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Silk-Screening 101 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 3 — Expose the screen. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

• Now that it is dry, place the screen 
on your workspace with the bottom 
facing down. Put your transparency 
on the screen in the center and as 
squarely as you can, then place a 
piece of glass on top. This holds 
your transparency down so that it 
makes direct and even contact with 
the screen. If it doesn't make direct 
contact, then your design will 
appear fuzzy around the edges. 

• The light source needs to be placed 
about 12 inches from the screen to 
get good results, and it needs to 
shine evenly across your design. I 
use two $10 task lights. These are 
great because they allow me to 
easily adjust my light source, and 
by having two, one on either side of 
the screen, we can make sure the 
entire design gets an even, direct 
supply of light. 

• Follow the directions that came 
with the emulsion for exposing your 
screen. It varies with the bulb and 
screen size. 

• I'll burn our screen for about 30 
minutes. You can tell when the 
screen is done by looking: the 
exposed areas turn dark green 
when they are baked solid by the 

• Note: For a super-dense 
positive, make two 
transparencies with your design on 

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Silk-Screening 101 

them. Line them up and attach 
them together with double-sided 

• Note: You should lay down 
your design onto the screen 
just as you want it to print. If you 
have type in your design, it should 
be right reading. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 4 — Wash and dry the screen. 

• Now that the screen is exposed, 
wash it off in the sink with hot 
water. It takes some force to wash 
the screen effectively. I've 
attached a special nozzle to my 
faucet that creates higher 

• Note: I got a nozzle at Bed 
Bath & Beyond for $5. Just 
screw it on and it'll toggle between 
high and low. Works great for 
dishes too; I leave it on all the time. 

• Along with spraying, you can gently 
rub the screen with your fingers. 
Don't use your fingernails. If you 
force the emulsion off, you run the 
risk of tearing off the hardened 
emulsion, putting you back to step 

• You want only the unexposed area 
to wash off. Under hot water, the 
emulsion will become slightly 
gummy. Drying the screen isn't 
such a big deal this time around, 
now that it isn't sensitive to light. 
Prop it up against the fan, or place 
it where it can get some air. Silk 
dries quickly. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 5 — Print it. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

© Make Projects 

• Note: Silk-screening inks 
are acrylic. They dry 
quickly, and are water-soluble and 
transparent. Due to the transparent 
nature of the ink, it will interact with 
the color of the object you are 
printing on (example: blue ink on 
yellow shirt will turn slightly 
greener; blue ink on a black shirt 
will be barely legible). White, black, 
and a few metallics are the only 
completely opaque ink colors. 
White also comes in extra opaque, 
which I recommend. If you want to 
print on a dark material, mixing 
some opaque white into the color 
will help it stand out. 

• Now that the screen is exposed, 
washed, and dried, print it and see 
how it works. Try it out on paper 

• Lay the screen down flat, making 
sure that your surface is even and 
flat. With a spoon, put a glob of 
paint on the screen and spread it 
the width of your design. Don't get 
any on the design itself, just the 
area above it. 

• Now the fun part. Hold the screen 
down firmly with one hand (or have 
a buddy help hold it). Use a 
squeegee to pull the ink down to 
the bottom of the screen. Apply a 
small amount of pressure to the 
squeegee as you pull the ink. You 
will be able to see the paint evenly 

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Silk-Screening 101 

distributed across the screen. 

• Lift the screen and look at your 
beautiful print! Be very careful 
when you lift off the screen. Try to 
peel it slowly and directly up, so 
you don't smudge the fresh ink. It 
may want to stick to the paper. 

• It's as easy as that! Lay the screen 
down on another piece of paper and 
do a few more prints for fun. 

• Note: You should only have 

to spread the paint 
downward once, but if you don't 
think it's looking even, give it 
another pass. With practice, you'll 
get a feel for it. 

• Note: When you pull down, 

you should feel it evenly 
sliding over the screen. If it's 
grabbing in areas, then there isn't 
enough ink in that spot. This is one 
of the telltale signs that your print 
needs another pull of ink. If the first 
pull feels even, it may not need a 
second pull. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 6 — Print again. 

• Now that you have some practice 
and a feel for things, let's print the 
laptop bag. Start with a clean 

• Since the bag is soft, we need to 
put something stiff inside the bag to 
make the printing surface a little 
harder. In this instance, I used my 
old cutting mat. 

• Put some masking tape down on 
the bag as a guide to help line up 
your screen. The emulsion is just 
slightly transparent, and you can 
see the tape through it. Once it is 
into position, hold it down, glop 
some paint, and make a nice swish 
of the squeegee. Lift off the screen 
and take a look. Beautiful! 

• Note: Do a few test runs so 
you can practice getting 
good ink coverage and squeegee 
pressure. It's good practice to test 
your screen on some scraps of 
material that are similar to what 
you want to put your design on. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 7 — Clean up. 

• Place your finished product 
somewhere to dry (it will take 15 to 
30 minutes). 

• Immediately wash your screen — 
the ink dries fast and can ruin your 

• You can make about 100-200 prints 
with your screen. When doing a 
long run, you may have to 
periodically wash out your screen 
between prints to keep the paint 
from clogging your design. 

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Silk-Screening 101 

Step 8 — Make it washable. 

• If you are printing on a shirt, you 
need to do another step to make it 
permanent. Here are two options: 
iron the shirt on a high, dry setting, 
placing wax paper between the 
shirt and the iron or add a few 
drops of an additive like Versatex 
Fixer to the paint before you apply 
it to the shirt. You can mix it right 
into the ink container. 

• And once you get the hang of 
things, you can have a screen 
ready for printing in an afternoon. I 
love the immediacy of simple 
replication that is inherent in silk- 
screening. Who doesn't love a 
hand-printed bag, card, or t-shirt? 
Now go do it! 

This project first appeared in CRAFT Volume 01 pages 106-1 13. 

This document was last generated on 2012-11-02 11 :36:35 PM. 

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